Covalent attachment of ubiquitin (Ub) or SUMO to DNA repair proteins plays critical roles in maintaining genome stability. These structurally related polypeptides can be viewed as distinct road signs, with each being read by specific protein interaction motifs. Therefore, via their interactions with selective readers in the proteome, ubiquitin and SUMO can elicit distinct cellular responses, such as directing DNA lesions into different repair pathways. On the other hand, through the action of the SUMO-targeted ubiquitin ligase (STUbL) family proteins, ubiquitin and SUMO can cooperate in the form of a hybrid signal. These mixed SUMO-ubiquitin chains recruit “effector” proteins such as the AAA+
ATPase Cdc48/p97-Ufd1-Npl4 complex that contain both ubiquitin and SUMO interaction motifs. This review will summarize recent key findings on collaborative and distinct roles that ubiquitin and SUMO play in orchestrating DNA damage responses.
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